‘The Next Twenty Years’: my short story in ‘Pen and Pixel’

Inspired by a turning point in my life, ‘The Next Twenty Years’ is a reflective piece about change and resilience. My short story was penned for a monthly competition run by the Queensland Writers’ Centre for their online magazine, ‘Pen and Pixel’. It was the winning entry for April 2021, and was published in the May edition.

Port Stephens, NSW, Australia. A place of peace to contemplate life.

My fingers hover over the lighted screen in my lap. The online form is complete. Only a few questions really: name and employee number, tick the right box.

From my vantage point on the headland, early sunlight illuminates the bay. Facets of gold, pink, cerulean glisten like shards of a broken mirror. Out on the water, a dark object floats unattended. A tinnie perhaps. No sign of anyone on board. Adrift from its moorings, it bobs with the swell. Directionless and buffeted by the wind. Like me.

Until now, life has been ordered into neat twenty-year blocks. Twenty was the age I left home. First career: twenty years, ended after a change of government. Motherhood: twenty years, abandoned when the kids flew the nest. Marriage: two blocks of twenty years, blissfully intact. Current career: twenty years, endangered but not quite extinct.

I’m on the wrong side of sixty now. Finding a new job will be tricky. At work my colleagues are younger than my offspring. Deals are done over Friday night drinks. I’d rather sip a glass of red and watch the seven o’clock news. Promotions are given to the up-and- coming, not the over-the-hill. Technology has made my skills—once in demand—curiosities. After all, who calculates percentages in their head when computer modelling can do everything? Millennial offsiders gawk at me as if I’m Methuselah when I speak of a childhood devoid of social media, streaming, and drones. I’m a relic, a human museum-piece.

The decision I’m about to make is irreversible, as irreversible as falling pregnant. As soon as I touch that screen button, my career will be finished. Am I ready? Reasons for and against fill a pad of notepaper. The routine and discipline of work gives structure to my days and weeks. Duty and deadlines are reasons to get out of bed. For the first time ever, my future is a chasm. Exciting and waiting for me to explore, but somehow dangerous. To enter is a leap of faith. Like a fledgling eagle, I stand at the brink, my wings outstretched. Will I glide or will I drop like a stone to the bottom?

My life-pattern suggests that the next twenty-year time-slot could be my last. A shame to waste it working, my elderly mother would say.

Out on the bay, a motorboat streaks across the water. Throws a line to the tinnie, tethers her and tows her in. Hope warms my heart. I am adrift now, but a life-rope will be thrown. And when it is, I will catch it and pull myself in.

I hold my breath, touch the button on the screen. My phone makes a whooshing sound. An automatic response: Your resignation has been received. A giant leap for one woman. If I expected fireworks or the ground to move under my feet, I was mistaken. The moment passes easily, softly. Nothing explodes or shakes the earth. It is over; I have survived.

Bring on the next twenty years.

About Debbie Terranova

I write stories of mystery, history, and adventure that will inspire readers to question accepted 'truths' and discover alternative explanations. I call this approach ‘fiction with a conscience’. While settings, historical events, and some characters may be real or based on research, the narratives and central characters are generally the creation of my imagination. I have published three stand-alone novels with a fourth due out in 2021.
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